I SHALL SEAL THE HEAVENS (ISSTH) -
This is a Chinese Xianxia- Web Novel; one of the most popular Web Novel in China written by the author Gen Er.
FIRST - It’s important to know what a Xianxia novel is, because ISSTH exists comfortably within the genre. If you've never read a Xianxia story think of it like high Chinese fantasy. To expand on that point, if you've ever seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon you've seen a Chinese wuxia work. Wuxia is something like "low" or "moral" Chinese fantasy. There is magic and ghosts and super human feats but overall the people are still largely human. In Xianxia, the people can become something like immortal "gods". The powers get more and more powerful and the scale gets larger and larger the further along the the story you go. Wuxia to Xianxia is like comparing the mecha Full Metal Panic! to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. In one you have mecha which are sort of like an extra mobile tank, in the other the heroes all start out humble mortals but by the end they're fighting in galaxy sized mecha while by throwing galaxies like throwing stars at eachother at the end of the story.
This is a story about a scholar known as Meng Hao who has largely failed in his lifelong ambition to become rich by becoming a public servant to the mortal government of the State of Zhao. He lived an impoverish life after being abandoned by his parents, growing up an orphan (so of course his highest ambitions have to do with having money and power, as someone who grew up with neither). His failure in becoming a public servant is the starting point of the story as he's kidnapped by a beautiful woman who's out "kidnapping" mortal young adults to bring in more disciples to her failing immortal sect.
-Thus, starts Meng Hao's Journey and ours the readers
THE WORLD -
Gen Er does a wonderful job crafting a fantasy world unlike most other Wuxia/Xanxia titles. Most of their worlds seem to be afterthoughts to the story, a set piece which matters little. In ISSTH the world, it's history, the important people and places all have back story, depth and wonderfully detailed descriptions by Gen Er. It's a living breathing fantasy world which will drag you in and capture your imagination and you travel it with Meng Hao. Some places will leave a deeper impression then others, but one thing is certain, this is a world you'll have no problems envisioning as you read about the travels and trials which Meng Hao faces.
THE CHARACTERS -
Every character has a personality which will leave an impression, a design/description which will stand out and a background which will influence their actions. Many characters are immortal, so it's possible to go hundreds of chapters or centuries of time without seeing them, but when they come back you'll rarely struggle to remember who they are.
The strongest character in the story (thankfully) is the Main character Meng Hao. Meng Hao is a "different" type of Wuxia/Xanxia hero. Where others are often overpowered bad asses without a backing being suppressed by the world unfairly, often with world breaking cheat powers granted to them by dues ex machina, Meng Hao is a conman and failed scholar. He has no cheat power, and no real backing, except for his desire to become wealthy and powerful. Sometimes luck works for him, sometimes against him. Overall Meng Hao's most powerful weapon is his unwillingness to walk down the "known" or "tried" path to power. He doesn't want to be ordinary but extraordinary. The deepest and most touching moments in the story are often centering around Meng Hao's musings on the world, relationships and life. Meng Hao is a nice change of pace from most Chinese fantasy heroes as you can tell he used to be a "scholar" in his secular/mortal life. He is often calm, calculating, and polite. He actually is shown TEACHING others from time to time like a good scholar. What makes him so fascinating is his steady transformation over the hundreds of chapters from a mild mannered scholarly young man to a scholarly looking demon in human flesh; its natural and tragic.
If there is a weakness in this story it’s that the main love interest Xu Qing might be the least interesting character in the story. She's often described as "pretty but cold" and "intelligent but not clever of mind", highlighting just how "ordinary" she is in a universe where most high-end cultivators are often described as beautiful and clever. To Meng Hao she's the most beautiful woman he's seen, but when the POV drifts to a 3rd party you quickly realize she's simply "pretty". If she had a remarkable personality that wouldn't matter, but she's cold, and distant. Usually is quiet, often because she's not clever she chooses to keep her mouth closed rather than talk. Her strongest character traits are her simple-minded desire to "train" and being a damsel in distress for Meng Hao to rescue from time to time. It's disappointing that Gen Er went with her as the main romantic lead and skipped over several much stronger female characters (talking about their personalities) in this, particularly Chu Yuyan.
As for antagonists, this is where ISSTH shines. Often in Wuxia/Xanxia stories antagonists forge stupid, pointless and mindless hatreds for the talented MC. They’re blithely cruel, petty and often are shown as rapists or psychopathic murderers. There is almost no depth to them and little enjoyment is earned when the MC inevitably kills them, other than the relief you'll never have to read about them again. ISSTH does not have many pointlessly cruel villainous characters. Most antagonists have their own desires and goals, sometimes they're petty sometimes they're cowards and sometimes they're just bullies, but usually they're nuanced and motivated by SIMILAR desires as the MC is. This means not every antagonist has to remain an antagonist forever. Some of them die, some of them forge a mutual respect for the MC. Some of them fall into obscurity, while others (like Chu Yuyan) go from antagonist to far better female love interest than Xu Qing
This story basically is made up of a series of minor plots in an overarching meta plot. In fact, you don't even see the shape of the overarching -meta- plot until you get almost 800 chapters in, then you'll realize it had been shaping up since chapter 1. Gen Er weaves an engaging tale, but it's definitely a slow burn. I don't think the story really gets under way until chapter 90, for some people that's just too slow a start to a story.
What really sets ISSTH apart from other Xianxia/Wuxia stories is the humor. This is a VERY funny story from time to time. It’s almost all character driven humor, not slapstick, which means you won't find anything funny till you learn who the characters are, then the humor starts to become evident. There are a lot of light hearted moments. Gen Er also goes in for the "long" joke, some punchlines will build up over HUNDREDS of chapters. One of the hardest laughs I've ever had reading anything happened in ISSTH, it was a hilarious scene/event Gen Er built up over 150 chapters or so (around chapter 200), I have to admit I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. I have to admit when ISSTH gets too serious sometimes I lose my interest in it ~ however
The deep emotional sorrowful moments are almost as heartrending as the jokes are side busting. Gen Er finds a way to make tragedy poetic, deep and meaningful without crossing over into cheap or overused. Ultimately, because you fall in love with the characters, you'll find yourself laughing out loud when Meng Hao starts smiling bashfully, or crying as Meng Hao morns the passing of a close mentor.
This Web Novel is being translated by "Madam Deathblade" on www.wuxiaworld.com, with the permission of the author and publishing company. I don't speak Chinese so I can't claim to know how good her translation skills are, but the story is all written and translated into literate and error free English. It reads clearly and smoothly, overall it seems like a high-quality translation, much higher quality then most Japanese Light Novels get (that or Gen Er is simply a better writer then most Japanese Light Novel authors).
If you want to try an epic chinses fantasy with a rich cast, memorable characters, lots of action and humor and tragedy this is the story for you. If you want to read about an overpowered badass slaughtering everyone who slights him, this is not the Wuxia for you. And if you have an overwhelming need for instant gratification, this probably is not the novel for you. This story has a long build up, long relationships, slow developing plot and slow developing humor. This is for someone who wants something to read over the course of summer vacation. If you decide to pick it up, and stick with it, it will touch your heart and make a lasting impression on you. It's not my favorite novel of all time, but it's EASILY my favorite Chinese wuxia novel of all time (and I've read quite a few of them).
What I say stories amazing this is my 2nd light novel review and this one's in my opinion is not as good as tales of demons and gods what it's really good or really like it now if you don't care to read my partners(azanimefan) review I'll give you a brief TL:DR, of my own.
It's amazing , the way he strategized plans like 5 moves ahead just like in chess or go it's amazing. Is ingenious tactics the way he gets into and out of situations through no fault of his own by the way are just insane. Now some people will say he has good luck I would say he has pretty shady lock though how he gets out of these bed luck situations is good luck he has a whole bunch of bed lug hole puncher bed Ju Ju that floats around him but then this magically good luck comes outta nowhere and saves him time after time God blossom. As of right now my 131 chapters in these reached maybe mid foundation level um and as far as I know hes trying to save his blood divinity pet , that's why I put in a spoilers tag if you don't wanna know don't repass that point. O this is worth every single 2nd you put into reading it.